Wilder Rice

A few years ago I wanted to open up a new business and call it Wilder Rice, the idea being a new kind of healthy eatery, with a friendly, casual setting & open kitchen, and serving only tasty stir-fries made with wild rice, red rice from Camargues and Thai Jasmine. That year was 2001. All hell broke loose, the world took a wrong turn and money dried up. A couple of years later I opened up a wine bar instead, thinking that if unforeseen disasters were to occur, I would lock the doors and drink myself stupid. I did hold that particular thought for a minute or two. But, back to the wild rice….

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The wild aquatic grass called zinzania from which wild rice is derived is no relation to the rice plant, not even a distant cousin. Basically, it’s a cereal grain that grows “wild” in isolated lake and river bed areas of North America. It is also native to ecologically similar regions in Asia. Amazingly, this evolutionarily ancient grain has been found in layers of the earth dating back some 12,000 years! In addition to its role as an important food staple for ancestral peoples, it has provided a unique habitat for fish and waterfowl for thousands of years, an ecosystem of its own right.
Those of you who have read “The Last of the Mohicans” would remember some of the descriptive pages in which the locals harvested the rice in canoes, and then parched (primitive parboiling) the grains as it gave them a strong flavor (btw, much of the wild rice from Minnesota is still harvested and parched pretty much the same way). What I love about “wild” rice is its inherent nuttiness and chewiness, and it’s packed with goodness such as calcium, potassium, rich in fiber, and did you know that it is richer in protein than common white rice and most other grains as well as contains more Niacin than brown rice and is a very good source of other B vitamins? Now you do. I even make wild rice into a passable porridge, great with maple syrup.

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As the pic shows above, once the rice is cooked it becomes fluffy and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week. There are countless ways to use wild rice, in soups, stews and salads. Here’s a recipe for a Thai-style wild rice & coconut soup, with a hint of curry, that I used to offer in the winter menus:

Wild Rice & Coconut Soup:

for 4 to 6 persons you will need 1 and a half cup of wild rice, 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, 4 garlic cloves, finely minced, 2 tablespoons of a good Thai red curry paste, 2 red onions, finely chopped, 1 can of cream of coconut (14 ounces), 2 Thai chillies, seeded and finely cut, a few fresh mint leaves, the juice of 2 limes, a pinch of freshly grated ginger, a pinch of turmeric and a dash of soy sauce, salt & pepper to taste. First rinse the rice thoroughly (there is a school of thought which advises soaking wild rice in water for up to 3 or 4 hours. I have tried it and results were negligible) and set aside. In a large-ish pot, over medium heat, pour the sesame oil and begin to fry the onions and garlic, then add the chillies and the soy sauce, stir for 1 minute and add the curry paste, lime juice, coconut cream, turmeric & ginger, stir well then add the wild rice. Cover with water, put a lid on to the pot and cook for 45 minutes. If you like a creamier texture, just add more coconut cream. Add the chopped mint leaves, check for seasoning, and serve. I did a different version in which I added either sweet potatoes or baby potatoes, for ballast.

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For me wild rice is the star ingredient in a salad. I’ve served dozens of variations like wild rice & smoked mackerel, wild rice & exotic fruits, wild rice & freshly grilled squid, wild rice & strips of pheasant breasts, wild rice & charred vegetables….there’s an endless list of possibilities! All you need to do is to cook the “rice” properly, fluff it with a fork and douse it with your favorite virgin oil. In the next recipe, I use fresh Shiitake mushrooms and hazelnut oil to great effect, and taste (it’s also suitable for vegetarians and vegans).

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Wild Rice & Shiitake Mushroom Salad, Hazelnut Dressing:

This is so easy it will make you cry with joy: the earthy flavor of Shiitake (rich in umami, one of the five basic tastes, it is said), is a perfect match for crunchy wild rice. For 4 to 6 persons you will need 1 cup and a half of wild rice (remember, leftover rice can be used in soups & thickening sauces), 12 ounces (roughly a third of a kilogram) of Shiitake mushrooms, washed and sliced, a small bunch of flat green beans, 6 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced, 4 ounces of shallots, 2 fluid ounces of balsamic vinegar, 5 fluid ounces of hazelnut oil (if not available, try walnut instead), and a few spring onions to balance the dressing.

Cook the wild rice first. Bring the rice to the boil in 5 cups of water. Simmer for 45 to 50 minutes (check for chewiness) then take off the heat and let the rice stand for 5 minutes with the lid on. The kernels should have opened slightly and released its nuttiness. Pour the rice into a colander and let is cool naturally, don’t rinse it or you’ll lose some flavor (rice water can be used for a hearty soup). In a skillet, pour 1/5 of the hazelnut oil and over medium heat, fry the minced shallots & garlic, stir, then add the flat green beans and sliced mushrooms. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, tops, I usually add salt & pepper at this junction, then set aside for cooling off. Once the rice & mushrooms are at room temperature, mix the lot together in a large salad bowl and douse it with the balsamic vinegar and the hazelnut oil, sprinkle with chopped green onions and it’s ready.

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If you follow the cooking directions above for wild rice, then you can make just about any kind of stir-fry to your heart’s content. My very favorite would have to be fresh squid (when available) and mussels in the shell, with a fresh chili kick and loads of cilantro. You know the drill!

At about the time early Europeans first settled around the Great Lakes area of North America, the Indigenous inhabitants already living there called the “wild” varieties of lake and river Wild Rice by many different names….names such as Manomin, Mahnomen and Manoomin. These various names have different meanings depending on one’s cultural interpretation. Early French explorers called it Riz Sauvage (wild rice) or Folles Avoines (wild oates). By whatever name, many of the Indigenous Peoples of North America consider the “wild” varieties of lake and river Wild Rice to be “A Gift from the Great Spirit….the Creator Himself”, spiritually sacred and therefore distinct from the “cultivated” or “farm grown” varieties

About Red Rice:

my early memories of red rice are from a wonderful place in the South of France called Saintes Maries de la Mer, in which, once a year in May, gypsies from all over the globe converge upon this picturesque village for their annual pilgrimage and the crowning of their king (the story of how the three Maries came to have a place named after them is worth a diary: think Mary, mother of Jesus, Mary, sister of Lazarus, and Mary Magdalene, add plenty of Catholic intrigue and flamenco and you have a great story). During the Gypsy three-day festival plenty of food is served and since the famed red rice is grown locally, numerous dishes feature it. It’s a reddish-maroon, short-grain, similar to brown rice in that it is unpolished and retains its fibrous hull, with an intense nutty taste; it can be cooked like risotto, boiled or baked and used in game stews, vegetarian side dishes and salads. Red rice is also grown in Southeast Asia (Bhutan, Philippines, Thailand) and the American South (mostly in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana) and I’m sure in more places than I know of.

The particular rice I use may be harder to find online though it is sold on some sites. If you are having difficulty then use Thai red Jasmine rice, also very good. When cooked, Camargues red rice won’t be as fluffy as the wild kind and it will turn a deeper red, and be slightly sticky, ideal for salads and jambalayas. And for this next recipe:

Spicy Chorizo Red Rice:

this is a superb dish that can be served on the side of any meat or game roast or by itself (try this on a hangover morning!) For 4 to 6 persons you will need 1 and a half cup of red rice, 12 ounces of a hot chorizo sausage (the hotter the better), sliced thickly, 2 red onions, chopped roughly, 8 ounces of cherry tomatoes, 1 red bell pepper, cut into strips, 1 fennel bulb (it adds an interesting dimension), cut up in cubes, 6 to 8 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced, 2 fresh chilies, seeded (or not, depending on how hot you like it), a dash of raspberry vinegar, salt & pepper and a handful of chopped green onions. And some olive oil.

Rinse rice and strain. Cover rice in a pot with boiling water and simmer until tender, about 35 to 40 minutes (don’t forget the rice water contains many nutrients and can be reused for sauces & soups). If you wanted a stronger flavor, cook the rice in chicken or vegetable broth.

In a wok or large frying pan, pour a small amount of olive oil and throw the onions, garlic, and cubed fennel, stir for a minute over medium heat, then add the bell pepper, chopped chili and cherry tomatoes (whole), stir and cook for no more than a minute, then add the sliced or cubed chorizo, stir and add the warm red rice into it, stir well for half a minute and add the dash of raspberry vinegar. Mix the chopped green onions and give it a final stir before serving.

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And finally here are TEN reasons why you should eat more of it:

1. Rice is Nutrient Rich: Enriched white rice and whole grain brown rice provide many vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber (brown and wild rice) important for good health.
2. Rice is a Good Source of Folic Acid: A serving of enriched white rice provides 23% of the Daily Value (DV) for folic acid, which the new guidelines call a nutrient of public health concern and one that is especially important for women and adolescent girls who are able to become pregnant, to prevent certain birth defects.
3. Rice Eaters Have Healthier Diets and Reduced Risk of Obesity: Research shows that those who eat rice have reduced risk for many chronic conditions, including heart disease and obesity.
4. Rice is Free of Trans and Saturated Fats: Rice contains zero grams of both blood-cholesterol raising trans and saturated fat.
5. Rice is Sodium-Free: Rice is naturally free of sodium. Consumers can flavor rice with herbs, spices, and many other sodium-free alternatives.
6. Rice is a Calorie Bargain: A half-cup cooked serving of rice is just over 100 calories. Whole grain brown and enriched white rice are important in a balanced diet, because research shows that rice eaters consume less fat and sugar and, as a result, tend to eliminate calories they don’t need from their diets. This helps people adopt a healthier eating style and maintain a healthy weight.
7. Rice is Affordable: A serving of rice costs just .10 cents, making it a nutritional bargain. It can help stretch consumers’ food dollars when used as a meat alternative or “filler” in dishes.
8. Rice is a Perfect Fuel: Rice fuels working muscles with the carbohydrates needed to exercise longer and harder. Eating carbohydrates before and after exercise is a great way to get more out of workouts.
9. Rice is Non-Allergenic: Easily digestible rice is one of the first foods for babies and for adults who have gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Rice and rice-based foods are healthy alternatives to wheat, barley and rye.
10. Rice is a Perfect Partner: Rice is generally eaten with other healthy foods, including vegetables, beans, seafood, chicken and other lean proteins. Together, rice and its companions on the plate can improve America’s overall diet and health.

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This entry was posted in Ecology, Food, Memoirs, Recipes and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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